Updated: Feb 18

The first one has actually gone a few days ago, the next one is tomorrow and the last one will be in about two weeks' time. If I get one year older on each birthday, how old am I now? I had this question for a while when I was a child. Let me explain to you here.

International Calendar and the Chinese calendar

In China, we have two calendars, the international calendar, we call it 新曆 (san1 lik6) and the Chinese traditional calendar 中國舊曆 (zung1 gwok3 gau6 lik6), which also call Lunar calendar 農曆 (nung4 lik6). The dates on the Lunar calendar are not always the same date as on the international calendar. For example, if I was born on the 1st of January on the Lunar calendar, it could be on 26th of January on the international calendar. Therefore, I would celebrate my birthday twice according to these two calendars.

My parents and grandparents used to celebrate my birthday according to the Lunar calendar. I celebrate my other birthday with my friends and classmates. It’s actually nice because I would have two birthday parties and birthday cakes. The celebration activities could be more varied. Some activities I would only do with my family, and others I would only do with my friends.

The family tradition of birthday celebration

Here I would like to share a little family birthday tradition. My grandmother used to prepare a big meal including a whole chicken on the table. She usually chopped up the chicken into small pieces except for one drumstick, and that’s for the birthday person. I have got two brothers and we all love chicken. I think my grandmother did that just to make the birthday person feel special. So, every year, we take turns having the whole chicken drumstick. Besides food, my grandmother used to give the birthday person a red envelope containing cash, we call it 利是 (lei6 si6). She would wish us good luck in school, good health, and all our dreams come true.

The 'Human Day'

Now how about the third birthday? It’s on the 7th of January 初七 (co1 cat1 ) on the Lunar calendar. This day is called ‘Human Day’人日 (jan4 jat6). On this day, everyone has a birthday. Here is the story. Mother 女媧 (neoi5 wo1) created the World in ten days. From the first day of Chinese New Year, she created one animal a day for the first six days. They are chickens, dogs, pigs, goats, oxen and horses. On the seventh day, she created humans. Therefore, we celebrate the creation of humans on the 7th day of Chinese New Year. On the rest of the days, she created valleys, the sky and the land.

Celebrations with food

To celebrate Human Day, some people cook vegetable soup with seven types of vegetables and wish for the best harvest in the coming year. The soup is called 七寶羹 (cat1 bou2 gang1). Some people eat noodles and wish for a longer lifespan. People from South China eat seafood with their family at a big table. They cook fish and other seafood and place them together on a big dish to share. They pick up the food high with chopsticks and wish for better luck in the coming year.

How do students celebrate the 'Human Day'

Students who eat rice porridge with lean pork, liver and pork intestines wish for good luck with their exams. Here is the story. A child was born in a small village in Guangzhou 廣州 (gwong2 zau1). It is one of the biggest provinces in South China. At the age of seven, he sold vegetables in the market for a living. He loves reading, but his family could not afford the schooling cost. One day, he didn’t sell any vegetables. He was so hungry and sat down in front of a butcher. The butcher felt bad for him. He bought some vegetables from him and offered him a bowl of rice porridge made with some leftover pork meat, pork liver and pork intestines. This boy was very grateful. He went back to the butcher every day to sell vegetables and have the best meal of the day.

This village boy reads books every day and shares Chinese literature from the books with other villagers. His name became famous as a talented child in the village. One day, a town governor visited the village and offered him an opportunity to study in school. Since then, he stopped selling vegetables and worked hard in school. Ten years later, he got the best grade on the national exam. He came back to his hometown and visited his old friend, the butcher. He had his childhood lunch once again, a bowl of rice porridge. To say thank you to the butcher, he named this dish ‘Champion rice porridge’ 狀元及第粥 (zong6 jyun4 kap6 dai6 zuk1). I really love this story because it shows the kindness of human nature.

Celebration activities

In tradition, the women make decorations in the shape of humans using colour paper and cotton. They also use them to decorate their windows. In tradition, people also make hair decorations in the shape of flowers and give them to their friends and neighbours as gifts. I remember I received a hair decoration from a classmate in primary school.

Hiking is a very popular activity on Human Day. In ancient China, it is believed that the good weather on the Human Day gives a good year. People would be safe and sound in the coming year. In the modern generation, the best activity on a nice day is to get away from the busy city life and go hiking to have a relaxing day in the countryside.

The best tradition for me when I was a child is that the parents are generally more tolerant of their children’s behaviour on this day. As it is a human day, everyone pays respect to each other. The parents would not shout at the children. The justice would not execute any offenders. The boss would not give pressure on the workers on this day.

Well, different places have different traditions. I have mentioned only a few of them here. Tomorrow is my second birthday this year and I am going to meet some friends for hiking. I hope the weather would be as good as they said in the weather forecast. Here I wish everyone a wonderful Human Day and Happy Birthday!

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Are you ready for the Chinese New Year? Do you know that Cantonese celebrate the New Year for at least three days? Do you know what do they do to celebrate the festival? In this episode we are going to talk about the Chinese New Year activities and what you should avoid during the celebration. I will also include a few common Cantonese phrases which you may hear around the new year time.

In tradition, after the New Year’s Eve family dinner, people stay up late until the next morning. In Cantonese, we call it 守年sau2 nin4. Some people may still be rushing to put the red banners up with the lucky messages. Start from the midnight of New Year’s Eve through New Year’s Day, people lit the firecrackers 燒炮仗siu1 paau3 zoeng6 at home. It is to believe that the red decoration and firecrackers would drive away from the evil spirits. Although it is illegal to use firecrackers and fireworks in Hong Kong, I can’t remember in my childhood if there was one year that I didn’t hear the firecrackers.

There are a lot of Taoists in Hong Kong. They go to the Taoist templates to offer the incense sticks to God at the first moment of the Chinese New Year. This activity calls 上頭炷香soeng5 tau4 zyu3 hoeng1. Taoist temple in Cantonese is 道教廟宇dou6 gaau3 miu6 jyu5. They believe that doing this at the beginning of the year is to show their piety to God and wish for the best of luck in the coming year. The most popular Taoist temple in Hong Kong is 黃大仙廟wong4 daai6 sin1 miu6

The New Year Day in Cantonese is 年初一nin4 co1 jat1, which is the day to honour the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The visit during the Chinese New Year, in Cantonese, is 拜年baai3 nin4. We usually say 恭喜發財gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4 to the senior which means to wish you to have a great wealth and a prosperous year; 身壯力健san1 zong3 lik6 gin6 which means to wish you good health. The parents will have red envelopes containing cash for us. In Cantonese, the red envelopes call 利是lei6 si6. Giving out 利是lei6 si6 is a form of blessings. Some company managers also give out 利是lei6 si6 to their employees for good luck, good health and great wealth. Usually, only the married couples give out 利是lei6 si6, in another word, the singles only receive 利是lei6 si6.

People believe having a fire or using a knife on New Year’s Day brings bad luck for the year. So they cook the night before and have light meals during New Year’s Day. I remember my grandmother used to start cooking right after the big family meal on New Year’s Eve. In some years, she didn’t go to bed until 2 in the morning.

Remember to put the bloom away on New Year’s Day. It is believed that using blooms would sweep the good luck away, so we do not sweep the floor on New Year’s Day.

During the Chinese New Year, many shops are closed for business. The families spend this precious time together at home. Many families used to go to the central area of Hong Kong to watch the float parade 花車巡遊faa1 ce1 ceon4 jau4. The float parade was one of the biggest events in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day.

The second day of the New Year is 年初二nin4 co1 ji6, is also the beginning of the year 開年hoi1 nin4. In tradition, people could use the knives and fire again, which were avoided on the first day of the new year. Therefore, they cook a big meal and worship their ancestors for the first time of the year. In ancient China, people would only cook chicken and pork, but not beef because the oxen are good helpers for the farmers. Nowadays, the farmers use machines to harvest, so people don’t mind eating beef.

This day is also the day for married daughters to visit their mothers with their husbands and children. In ancient China, married daughters were not often able to visit their mothers. Nowadays the married daughters could visit their mothers more often, but many people are still following the tradition.

The second day of the New Year is also the best day to worship 車公 ce1 gung1, which is the God in one of the biggest temples, Che Gung Temple 車公廟 ce1 gung1 miu6 . It provides windmills 風車fung1 ce1 for the public to wish for better luck in the coming year. If your year was bad, you spin the windmill anti-clockwise and wish for a change of luck 轉運zyun2 wan6. If you think you were lucky and had a good year, you spin the windmill clockwise and wish for good luck to stay with you. Before entering the temple, the worshippers hit the drum hard a few times, to let 車公 ce1 gung1 know that you were here to visit. Since there are a lot of worshippers in Hong Kong, to avoid traffic jams and long waiting at the queues, many of them would go on the next day instead. At night, there was always a firework show at Victoria harbour. People would go there a few hours ahead and wait for the show. The firework show in Cantonese is 煙花滙演jin1 faa1 wui6 jin2.

The third day of the Chinese New Year年初三nin4 co1 saam1. The Cantonese believe that they are easy to get angry and start arguing with each other on this day. To avoid arguments, they would avoid going out and would not visit extended family or friends. Many choose to visit temples instead.

Before the Pandemic, there was always a New Year race day 農曆新年賽馬日nung4 lik6 san1 nin4 coi3 maa5 jat6 during the Chinese New Year. Watching horse racing in the racing course was a very popular event in Hong Kong. The racing course in Cantonese is 馬場maa5 coeng4. Many families visited the racing courses even they were not there to gamble.

Besides temples, Hong Kong people would like to go to the ‘wish tree’ 許願樹 heoi2 jyun6 syu6 to make a wish for the coming year. They write down their wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to an orange and throw it onto the branch of the tree. Their wishes would then come true. However, over the years, it accumulated too many oranges and caused damage to the tree. Then the new rule is to stop using real oranges and use plastic oranges instead.

From the second day of the New Year, there are many Dragon dance shows all over Hong Kong. Many villages would have a dragon dance team to perform in the area where they worship their ancestors. It is to believe that the dance would drive away from the bad luck and brings good luck for the new year. Dragon dance in Cantonese is 舞獅 mou5 si1

So here are only a few activities that the Cantonese do during the Chinese New Year. Sadly, many of the public events are cancelled this year due to the Pandemic. There are a lot more activities other families do too. No matter what people do, the main theme is, to spend more time with your family after a year of hard work.

To wrap this up today, I would like to introduce a few more lucky messages you could say to people during the Chinese New Year.

龍馬精神lung4 maa5 zing1 san4 身體健康san1 tai2 gin6 hong1 to wish for good health

心想事成sam1 soeng2 si6 sing4 事事如意si6 si6 jyu4 ji3 to wish for good luck

Here I wish everyone a very happy Chinese New Year, and a healthy and prosperous year ahead. 祝各位新年快樂zuk1 gok3 wai2 san1 nin4 faai3 lok6

身壯力健 san1 zong3 lik6 gin6

恭喜發財gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4

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Updated: Feb 7

Next week Friday is Chinese New Year. It’s the year of Ox. How much do you know about the signs of the Chinese zodiac? In Cantonese, we call it 生肖. According to the Lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year in 2021 is on the 12th of February. It’s the year of Ox. In the Chinese Zodiac, there are 12 animal signs assigned in a 12-year cycle. They are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

Each zodiac has its own personality. For example, people were born in the year of Ox, they are believed to be hard workers and have a strong sense of responsibility. They are usually quiet and keep their emotions inside. To each animal sign, there’s the best match and an incompatible match. It means some signs can be compatible, but some may not get along well with each other. It plays an important role in a marriage match.

Each zodiac has its own fortune. Perhaps some have better luck in the winter than in the summer. The others will have to be careful of their health in a particular month. To me, I read the Chinese zodiac every year before the year start, but I have always forgotten what I have to be careful of in a few days. Well, it’s nice to just remember the good things are coming, it helps in generating positive energy.

Here is how we call the year in Cantonese. The year of Ox 牛年, year of tiger 虎年, year of rabbit 兔年, year of dragon 龍年, year of snake 蛇年, year of horse 馬年, year of goat 羊年, year of monkey 猴年, year of rooster 雞年, year of dog 狗年, year of pig 豬年, year of rat 鼠年.

The people who were born in the year of Ox, we call them 牛年出世. They are Oxen 屬牛. I was born in the year of dog我係狗年出世 I’m one of the dogs 我屬狗. To find out which Zodiac sign you are, count the signs and repeat every 12 years. This year is the year of Ox. People who were born 12 years ago, which is in 2009. They’re also one of the Oxen. It’s the same for the people who were born 24 years ago, in 1997, and 36 years ago in 1985.

Alright, I leave the maths to you. Now we’re moving on to the grand celebration of Chinese New Year. Because the Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the year. We usually celebrate for 3 days. In Hong Kong, we have 3 days of public holidays. If one of the days falls on Sunday, we will get the following Monday as a public holiday. To prepare for the New Year, there are a few things we always do.

Number 1, we clean our house completely. In Cantonese, we call it 大掃除. We clean out the old clothes which we don’t wear any more, the toys we don’t play for a long time. We even move the furniture away from the wall so that we can get all the dust-out. We prepare a nice and clean environment for the new year. If you live in a Chinese community, you may also hear people say 除舊迎新, which means to get rid of the old stuff from the past which made you upset and welcome to the new stuff. People will buy new stuff to replace the old ones before the New Year.

Number 2, there is a Cantonese saying 年廿八洗邋遢, 年廿八means the 28th day of the month before the New Year. However sometimes we only have 28 days in a month according to the lunar calendar, so we simplify the meaning to 1 to 2 days before the new year. 洗邋遢 means to wash the dirt and bad luck away. After cleaning the house, we use a branch of pomelo leaves to clean out the bad luck of the house. People dip the leaves in a bucket of water and shake it on every corner and furniture of the house, from the end room of the house to the front door, in order to wash the bad luck away from last year. My grandmother used to boil the pomelo leaves in a big pot for 20 minutes, and pour the water over the body after a shower, to wash the bad luck away from the body. She said it was a tradition.

Number 3, we decorate the house with flowers and plants. We buy blooming flowers and wish for a prosperous New Year. Branches of peach blossoms, plum blossoms, orchids, narcissus, or water fairy flowers are very popular in Hong Kong. Some flowers bring baby luck to the married couples. Others bring peace to the household. Basically, decorating the house with blooming flowers brighten up the living room, and gives a freshness to the house for a fresh start. Before the pandemic, there are flower markets in every district in Hong Kong. The flower market in Cantonese is 花市. They open about a week before the Chinese New Year. Many families go to the flower markets after their evening meals to get their new year's decorations. We call this activity 行花市

Number 4, 貼揮春 decorating the house with some lucky messages written on the red banners. 貼 literally means to glue, to paste, 揮春 means the messages on the red banners. The messages are to wish for good luck and prosperity. Above the door, we always have 出入平安 to wish for a safe trip. In the living room, we have different kinds of messages.

Here are some examples, 萬事如意 to wish for everything goes as you wish, all the best and success. 四季平安, to wish for peace in four seasons, fewer arguments in the household and everyone is healthy and sound. At the stores or little shops, they will have 生意興隆 to wish for prosperity for the business, more customers coming into the shops. 年年有餘 to wish for profit every year.

Sometimes we see red banners on both sides of the gate or the main door. We put them up for the new year, we call them 春聯. The messages on the red banners are also to wish for a healthy year with plenty of good luck and prosperity. They usually come in two sentences, the first sentence put on the left side of the door, the second one put on the right side. They are created with a special structure and tone combination.

Number 5, gathering with family. Before the Chinese New Year, family members gather for an evening meal. We call this dinner 團年飯 or 年夜飯. In tradition, we have the dinner in the evening before New Year's Day. It’s important to have this meal because it means domestic harmony and the happiness of the family. This meal usually includes everything from fish, chicken, roast pork, vegetables to the soup, dim sum, Chinese desserts, and fruits.

So here are 5 things the Cantonese always do before the Chinese New Year. If you know other activities your Cantonese friends and family do before the New Year, share with us in the comment area below.

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